The Palacio del Segundo Cabo stands on the northwest side of the Plaza de Armas, next to the Castillo de la Real Fuerza. Built in 1773 as a general post office headquarters, the building has had various functions since then, including headquarters for the governor`s second liutenant in 1854 (which gave it the name it has kept ever since). The building is a prime example of Cuban
baroque and neoclassical elements, with details such as the six different styles of archway, lending a faintly Moorish feel to the whole building. When it was built, the governor, the Marques de la Torre, was so impressed with the result that he ordered the building of the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales on the west side of the square along similar lines, ordering quantities of expensive materials from Spain and Italy and adding the luxury of the wooden cobblestones that still pave the street outside the residence to muffle the noise of horses` hooves. He himself never enjoyed the finished building, which was first used by Governor Las Casas when he arrived to take up office in 1790.
The Palacio del Segundo Cabo will appeal particularly to anyone interested in Cuban
literature as nowadays it houses the Instituto del Libro, an organization established in the 1970s to promote everything to do with books and literature in Cuba. The Institute is responsible for seven of the state-owned publishing houses. Much of Havana
`s literary life takes place under the auspices of the Instituto del Libro, both in the Palacio del Segundo Cabo itself and in other venues around the city. As you enter, you will see a notice board on the right announcing forthcoming readings, workshops, presentations, and seminars on all aspects of literature. (Among other curiosities, the annual Cuban
Science Fiction conference is held here). Ignoring the tourists gathering to buy or postcards under the colonnaded entrance, young hopefuls turn up with scruffy handwritten manuscripts and established writers arrive for book launches. In 1999 the familiar shabby courtyard was suddenly transformed by three bookstores alongside the beautiful Baccarat chandeliers. The booksellers in the square outside continue to stock endless battered copies of Fidel`s and Che`s writings.
The Instituto also now boasts a little `Cafe Literario` tucked away down a stairway where you can have coffee sitting virtually in the moat looking up at the walls of the Castillo de la Fuerza Real.